My C-Section Experience
(Warning: this is a slightly detailed description of my daughter’s birth which was a c-section. In describing this, I am only recounting my daughter’s birth story. It is not to scare anyone or make anyone doubt themselves. If it wasn’t for my c-section I would not have been able to have my daughter due to her positioning. Furthermore, about 2 years later I was able to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with my son. But that is for another post, another day.)
I never planned on having a c-section. In fact, when my husband and I were taking every baby preparation class that our hospital had to offer, we declined to take the c-section one because we both agreed that probably would not happen to me. Imagine my shock at my 39 week & 3 day prenatal appointment to hear that my baby was frank breeched and I would need to schedule a c-section. It felt like an eternity for my brain to catch up & register those words. And I knew in the back of my head that this had always been a possibility, especially as I had thought I felt her head up high in my belly (even though I was reassured repeatedly that it was her bottom, which it obviously wasn’t) but it was still a huge shock. The idea of trying to turn her was also brought up, but I declined as I was already so close to her due date and was told she was measuring around 8lbs (she was 8lbs, 6oz).
Fast forward past the crying phone calls to my husband, family and best friend. Fast forward past that night where it was our last night just the two of us, and we nervously & excitedly discussed the surgery tomorrow & meeting our daughter. Because that’s what it was: major abdominal surgery. And fast forward past my water breaking at midnight & me confusing it for wetting myself. So now we’re at the hospital, my husband is getting in his scrubs and I am hunched over a table while the anesthesiologist is about to put in the spinal block. So much fear and an overwhelming panic hit me so hard that I felt like I couldn’t gasp a deep enough breath in. And all I wanted was my mom to tell me that everything was going to be ok. My nurse (who happened to be a very sweet and awesome girl I went to high school with) picked up that I was starting to panic and she grabbed my hands. And with a very shaky voice and a huge lump in my throat, I squeezed her hands tightly back and asked her to pray with me. And we did.
The surgery itself was very intense. I couldn’t see anything because of the screen, or feel anything from the waist down because of the spinal block, but I could still hear the sounds even over the Christmas carols (my daughter was a December baby), and I was pretty terrified. My husband tried distracting me, and I interrupted him to ask if he’d talk to me about one of our favorite vacation places in Washington. And so he did. And I pretended that I was there, baking apple pies and eating sea food and picking up sand dollars off of the beach, instead of laying under glaring white lights being cut open. And when my ob told me that I’d feel some pressure, I was totally unprepared for what felt like an elephant sitting on my chest, as they maneuvered my daughter out of me. And I stared into my husband’s eyes the entire time, too petrified to break eye contact, and just told myself “You are tough and you WILL get through this” over and over again until I heard my baby girl’s cry. She was beautiful and sweet and I could not take my eyes off of her.
Except that I had to, because almost immediately after this, I started dry heaving. And I glanced up at the clock on the wall and was horrified to see that it looked like it was melting. Turned out I had postpartum preeclampsia, and though the c-section went great, my blood pressure spiked to almost 200 (I forget the bottom number but I know it was also high). I was put in a darkened recovery room with instructions to rest and close my eyes. I do not remember a lot. I drifted in an out of sleep. At some point they brought my daughter in to me because I had asked to try nursing her immediately. I was so nauseated I could barely focus. And I was so frustrated that everyone called breastfeeding natural, when at that moment if felt like the most unnatural thing I had ever tried to do. (I got the hang of it later and breastfed her for 18 months).
I was put on a magnesium sulfate drip for two days. Sadly, the first two days of my daughter’s life are very blurry. Apparently that’s a side affect of the medicine. But it did its job and got my blood pressure to creep back down. Which was a relief for my husband and family, as my husband was informed that I had been close to having a stroke or a seizure when they first wheeled my baby daughter into our room. By the third day I was doing much better, nursing was getting easier with many tearful coaching lessons with lactation consultants. I felt like I was getting a hang of breastfeeding, I could not stop taking enough pictures of my beautiful daughter, and I was thrilled to be off of the magnesium sulfate drip. But I was still in tremendous amounts of physical pain.
I’ve always had a high threshold for pain, after playing high school and college water polo I knew what my “breaking point” was. I knew how fast of a timed swim set interval I could do before I’d be dry heaving in the pool gutter. I knew how many stadiums I could run up before throwing up in front of the football team (sadly this happened at least 3-4 times during my collegiate water polo career). I had been elbowed in the mouth during a water polo game and had to go to the hospital for getting my front teeth knocked loose (they were saved later by an orthopedic surgeon). I’ve had my nose fractured twice from water polo injuries. Numerous black eyes. Jammed fingers. Sore body for days. Going to practice while sick. The list goes on and on.
Needless to say, I was surprised by how much pain I was in for those first few days after the c-section. And by how much unconditional love for my daughter consumed my soul. And surprised by how much pain I continued to be in for weeks afterwards. Just to get out of the hospital bed my husband would have to swing my legs over the bed (very slowly) for me because I didn’t realize how often we use our stomach muscles for every day things. This would leave me panting and gritting my teeth in pain. He’d slowly hold my waist and ease me up, and I’d be crying out the entire time. It honestly felt like I had to re-teach myself how to walk again because I had to walk so slowly due to the excruciating pain. Gas being trapped inside of me due to the surgery didn’t help things either, as it felt like I was being stabbed. So I kept up on the pain meds and took my recovery day by day. By the second week I was walking slowly but normally, and learned some tricks on how to ease the pain (like placing a pillow on the incision when I coughed or sneezed). So for you c-section Mamas out there, I feel you. I know you are so overjoyed to meet your baby but also in a lot of pain. And the pain will pass. And your body will heal. Please take it easy, & give yourself time to rest and heal. Because it won’t always be this way. And you’ve so got this Mama.